This article is from the Policy + Community Engagement = Business Value session during ISRI2021. If you would like to watch this session in its entirety, you can still register for ISRI2021 here. This session, along with others, are available to attendees on demand.

The titles “congressman/woman,” “senator” or “representative” may seem daunting, but that shouldn’t stop companies and trade associations from engaging with their legislators. “Don’t let the titles scare you. We’re normal people doing a really unique job,” says Kansas state Sen. Elaine Bowers. In that vein, Bowers and Gary Champlin, ISRI chair and general manager of Champlin Tire Recycling in Concordia, Kan., discussed the various ways they’ve worked together over the years to accomplish shared goals.

Champlin shared two cases in which he reached out to Bowers, Kansas’ Republican state Senate majority whip, to address an issue. The first time was more than a decade ago, when the legislature discussed a bill that would cut a grant to local units of government so they could buy recycled tire-derived products. Champlin’s company markets a line of outdoor furniture that uses a variety of recycled products, including crumb rubber from tires, so cutting this funding would have negatively impacted his company. While the bill was in committee, Champlin and Bowers discussed how the issue would affect local businesses. After her conversation with Champlin, Bowers built a coalition among her colleagues against the bill, effectively squashing it before it even reached the state House floor for a vote.

During his 30-plus years working with trade associations, Champlin learned that associations, as the experts in their respective industries, should educate their state legislators about issues related to their industries. If you educate lawmakers, and you’re truthful with them, you’re going to get good results. “I haven’t had one negative outcome when we’ve done that. Every time it’s been positive,” he says.

Advocating for Your Company, Employees and Community

Champlin contacted Bowers about the 2020 federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act after seeing an uptick in sales of Champlin Tire Recycling’s tables and benches. The company has a state contract to supply outdoor furniture. Talking with a few of the communities that were ordering more products than normal, Champlin learned they had received CARES funding and were using the money to purchase his company’s products to accommodate the need to have more outdoor functions because of COVID-19.

In most states, user fees fund parks and wildlife areas, so state departments can’t just go out and buy tables and benches in bulk, even if there’s a need. Champlin was told that CARES funding wasn’t available to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism’s Parks Division. Shortly afterward, he ran into Bowers at a fundraiser, and they discussed the CARES Act. From there, Bowers researched and learned the department could file for a CARES grant. The department successfully filed for COVID-19 relief for state parks.

“You’re an advocate for your company. You’re an advocate for your employees. And you’re an advocate for your community,” Champlin says. “This is where the rubber meets the road — pun intended.”

Collaborating Through Trade Associations

Networking and connecting likeminded individuals are equally important as one-on-one interactions with your legislator; that can also move the needle on an industry issue. A few years ago, Bowers and Champlin again crossed paths during a National Conference of State Legislatures luncheon. Bowers mentioned to Champlin that a member from another party in the Kansas House was working on a statewide metal-theft bill. Bowers asked Champlin if ISRI would be interested in collaborating on the proposal. Champlin said yes, and introduced the bill’s author to an ISRI member with an interest in metal-theft legislation. The two went on to work together successfully on the bill.

When legislators work with members from trade associations, expertise is combined, which can result in great things happening to add value to your business and industry as a whole. “No industry is stronger than its trade association,” Champlin says. “Not every industry has the positive message that recycling has. Communicate, get access, and success is around the corner.”